The true meaning of Aloha

The film tells the story of Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, a transgender woman in modern Hawaii.
The film tells the story of Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, a transgender woman in modern Hawaii.

KUMU HINA is the story of Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, a transgender woman in modern Hawaii and the work she does to keep her culture alive and her community together.

Imagine a world where a little boy can grow up to be the woman of his dreams, and where a young girl can rise to become a leader among men.

Welcome to Kumu Hina's Hawaii.

Kumu Hina will be the feature film for an ACON fundraiser in Lismore as part of the Byron Bay Film Festival.

We had a chat to co-director and co-producer Joe Wilson after the film had its world premiere last week at the Berlin Biennale.

How was the film received by the broader Hawaiian community?

The film premiered in Honolulu's historic Hawaii Theatre as the closing night film in the Hawaii International Film Festival, before a wildly enthusiastic audience of 1500 people.

Since then, it has been invited for numerous screenings on Maui, Kauai, and Hawaii Island, opening up visibility and conversation about Hawaii's historic embrace of mahu, those who embody both male and female spirit, forced into the shadows for far too long as a result of Western, primarily religious, intolerance.

What is the film's final goal? What does it want to portray, achieve or change?

Although there have been several high profile films about transgender and gender non-conforming people over the years, they have tended to focus on the prejudice, discrimination and hostility that trans people face, rather than on their abilities and accomplishments.

Kumu Hina turns this paradigm around by portraying a world that recognizes those who display both male and female characteristics as gifted and special.

A world where transgender people are visible, included and honoured.

A world where youth who are searching for their own creative forms of gender expression are embraced and encouraged to be themselves rather than to hide in fear or pretend they are just like everyone else.

Who is Hina?

Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, aka Kumu Hina, is a transformational native Hawaiian mahu or transgender woman living a fully-empowered life in a land whose ancient culture was inclusive and accepting.

As a teacher in modern Honolulu, where the westernized environment is much less tolerant, Kumu Hina uses her cultural wisdom to create a place in the middle where all students are welcome, and as a community leader, to help imagine and build a future that is embracing of all.

Do you think the film can trigger a positive change in attitude towards transgender people in the different places it's shown, despite cultural differences?

Yes, absolutely. We have shown the film in a diversity of countries and communities - from New Zealand to China, Venezuela to Germany, New York to San Francisco - and the responses have been overwhelmingly positive.

The film has also been selected for national television broadcast in the US, on PBS Independent Lens, the most prestigious platform for a social issue documentary.

It will reach an audience of more than two million.


The BBFF ACON fundraiser will be held at the Star Court Theatre, Session 1, on Thursday, March 12 from 7.30pm. $15. For details visit

Topics:  acon byron bay film festival hawaii transgender

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